'It Has Never Been a Fairy Tale': Lander Sisters Reflect on 20 Years of Kittie in New Documentary

Courtesy of Kittie
A former lineup of Kittie, photographed in 2014.

There’s a scene in the documentary Origins/Evolutions where Kittie drummer Mercedes Lander says that her band’s story “has never been a fairy tale.”

It certainly looked like one in the making back in 2000, however, when the London, Ontario, quartet came roaring out of the gate with its full-length debut, Spit; promptly appeared on Ozzfest that summer; and went gold on the strength of singles like “Brackish” and “Charlotte” -- all while its members were still in high school. In an era that is often remembered for its male angst, Kittie proved that young women could be just as vitriolic -- and crushingly heavy -- as their older male peers. 

Of course, it didn’t take long for the tribulations to start, including friction with their record company, myriad lineup changes and the sudden 2017 death of longtime bassist Trish Doan, which (among other factors) has left Kittie’s future uncertain.

Nevertheless, Origins/Evolutions (out March 30 on Blu-ray and DVD via Lightyear Entertainment/Universal Music Group) chronicles a triumphant story -- one that frontwoman Morgan Lander succinctly summarizes as “Holy fuck. Period.” The three-disc set, which includes a live CD, is now seeing the light of day after four years of labor, thanks in part to an Indiegogo campaign that doubled its original funding goal of $20,000. 

Billboard caught up with the Lander sisters two days after the 20th anniversary of their first-ever show. Read our discussion with the duo below. 

Your parents played a crucial role in your career. In the documentary, your mother, Deanna Lander, says that she realized she was going to be on the ride of her life when the band got signed after showcasing at Canadian Music Week in 1999.

Mercedes Lander I feel like Morgan and I were brought up very differently from a lot of our peers. Our parents were very lax. I think they didn’t want to make the same mistakes that their parents made with them. They were super encouraging when it came to the arts -- playing music, dance, etc. They really wanted us to explore our artistic side and have those options. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, when my parents grew up, that was kind of frowned upon. But they always made sure that if we wanted to try something, we were allowed do it. I remember when I told my dad that I wanted to play drums [at age 12]. He was like, “Oh, that’s so awesome!”

Morgan Lander But I will say that, once the whole band thing started to pick up steam -- even locally, and when we started to get a little bit of attention from labels -- my parents were a little divided. Originally, my mom was like, “You’re fuckin’ crazy.” I can see how and why there might be a little bit of resistance. But she kind of had to go along for the ride.

You weren’t even old enough to be in bars in Canada when you first started. How did you navigate that legally?

Mercedes A lot of our shows were all-ages. And I mean, I can remember drinking in bars when I was 15. I’m not going to lie about that. Things were a lot more lax back then, especially in America and in the Southern states -- woo! I can remember playing Vancouver, and none of us were 19 at the time.

Morgan That time, we were only allowed in the venue to get up onstage to do the sound check and do the show. Otherwise, we had to be in our vehicle.

Kittie co-headlined the second stage at Ozzfest 2000 just a few months after your first album was out. How did the other bands treat you?

Morgan While a lot of these bands were guys that were twice our age, we were treated with nothing but respect. A lot of the bands were happy that we were there and were super friendly. Everybody was really cool. It was like a happy summer-camp party vibe. There were no crossed arms, no “We don’t want to talk to this band,” no eye-rolling, no talking shit.

Mercedes It’s interesting, because I don’t feel like a lot of the bands we’ve played with have ever given us a problem. It’s everybody else. (Both laugh.)

When you think of touring, drugs and debauchery immediately come to mind, but it sounds like you were mostly shielded from that.

Morgan Well, no. It was all there, and we saw it. I mean, Pantera was on that Ozzfest tour. We saw some shit. Of course we did. But it didn’t affect us. I think it was because my parents [let us] have fun, but instilled values in us like, “Hey, don’t get too carried away; don’t buy your own hype; drugs are bad,” and all that stuff. There was lots of cocaine and tons of drinking. We did drink, but to this day, I’ve never touched cocaine.

Mercedes Nope.

Morgan, you seemed really comfortable addressing crowds and speaking your mind in interviews early on. How natural was that for you?

Morgan I think it came more naturally for Mercedes than it did for me…Even today, if I had to address people at a meeting or a conference room, I’d probably be very, very nervous, but if it’s a concert setting and there’s a microphone stand in front of me, I feel like I’m hiding behind that microphone stand, so I’m fine. And I know, it’s only like an inch across. But I’ve never really been good at that, so I had to learn it 100 percent. “Fake it till you make it” really applies to me and what I learned.

What about with being asked your opinions on things?

Morgan I can recall a very early interview that we did on MuchMusic before we were signed. It was a roundtable on women in heavy music. The host…

Mercedes She was a huge champion of the band. Big ups Larissa Gulka.

Morgan Yeah. So, I remember rehearsing in my mind all these eloquent and thoughtful things that I would say -- I still do this -- but then she asked me a question that wasn’t on my list of things I was going to say, and I was so nervous that the answer I gave her was the answer to another question. That was one of our very first television experiences, and that went out live all over Canada.

Mercedes I feel like we went to the school of having to talk to people. Being in this band taught us at a very young age how to interact with people on every level.

Morgan We were being asked a lot of tough questions, too. I always have to remind myself that we were just children, and we were being asked really deep questions. When we started this band, the thought of what it meant to be a woman in heavy metal never occurred to us. We were so naive that there was never an answer for that question because it was just a given: We were friends, and we wanted to make music. We felt like, “How complicated is that?”